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Values at the End of Life

Values at the End of Life

The Logic of Palliative Care

Roi Livne

ISBN 9780674545175

Publication date: 06/10/2019

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This insightful study examines the deeply personal and heart-wrenching tensions among financial considerations, emotional attachments, and moral arguments that motivate end-of-life decisions.

America’s health care system was built on the principle that life should be prolonged whenever possible, regardless of the costs. This commitment has often meant that patients spend their last days suffering from heroic interventions that extend their life by only weeks or months. Increasingly, this approach to end-of-life care is coming under scrutiny, from a moral as well as a financial perspective. Sociologist Roi Livne documents the rise and effectiveness of hospice and palliative care, and growing acceptance of the idea that a life consumed by suffering may not be worth living.

Values at the End of Life combines an in-depth historical analysis with an extensive study conducted in three hospitals, where Livne observed terminally ill patients, their families, and caregivers negotiating treatment. Livne describes the ambivalent, conflicted moments when people articulate and act on their moral intuitions about dying. Interviews with medical staff allowed him to isolate the strategies clinicians use to help families understand their options. As Livne discovered, clinicians are advancing the idea that invasive, expensive hospital procedures often compound a patient’s suffering. Affluent, educated families were more readily persuaded by this moral calculus than those of less means.

Once defiant of death—or even in denial—many American families and professionals in the health care system are beginning to embrace the notion that less treatment in the end may be better treatment.


  • Most of us think that money and death belong to opposite moral terrains. Roi Livne demolishes that boundary as he traces the deeply moral roots of a new economy of dying. Drawing from vivid interviews and observations of physicians, patients, and family, Values at the End of Life will not only shape scholarly debates but also fascinate a broad audience eager to understand twenty-first-century death practices.

    —Viviana Zelizer, author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy


  • 2020, Joint winner of the Mary Douglas Prize
  • 2020, Winner of the Section on Aging and the Life Course Outstanding Publication Award


  • Roi Livne is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. He has been awarded fellowships from the Center for Research on Social Change and the Charlotte Newcombe Foundation. His work has won awards from the American Sociological Association, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, the Israeli Sociological Association, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press